Sunday, June 7, 2009
Not a Barbie Girl
With their wide eyes and open minds, children understand hidden worlds that adults can no longer see. Children can suspend their disbelief and imagine that there are wonderful things happening all around them in the most mundane objects and experiences. The winner of 1930 Newbery Medal, Hitty: Her First Hundred Days by Rachel Field, explores this possibility by chronicling the life of a beloved doll. As Hitty travels around the world through a series of chance encounters and accidents, she reflects on her experiences with good grace, a positive attitude, and the knowledge of an eventual happy ending. Hitty literally has no control of her life; her body of “well-seasoned mountain ash wood” is not made to move and she can only watch as the world changes around her. Through Hitty’s eyes, the reader sees the world of imperialists and missionaries shift to modern secular culture. This novel is as much as story of a nation as it is of a doll. Hitty is indeed a “rare bit of Americana,” she has seen America grow up, fight, and recover. She might even represent the insurmountable American spirit that dreams of a better world.
Children, however, care little for the subtleties of politics and history. For them, this book tells them what they already know: that being owned by a special child fulfills a doll’s life. Hitty has multiple owners but it is the girls that make her happiest. By sharing their adventures, fears, and triumphs, Hitty experiences true love, as dolls know it. Their association with this special doll, in turn, changes the girls, each in her own way. In our world where the most popular dolls are anatomically incorrect and distort children’s perceptions of beauty, it’s especially important for girls to read novels like this one that focus more on character development and kindness than in coiffure and fashion. As the first girl-focused Newbery Medal winner, Hitty’s story stands out as a precursor to the genre of Girl Power literature. Hitty started girls dreaming about the extraordinary possibility that their lives might be filled with adventure - and they haven’t stopped dreaming since.
Other Inanimate Objects Books:
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop